Around 120 babies are born each month in the City of Melbourne, and local families have continued welcoming bundles of joy throughout the pandemic.
To ensure our littlest Melburnians and their parents continue to get the support and connection they need during lockdowns, we are continuing to deliver free maternal and child health services.
These services are delivered in-person in one of our centres or via telehealth, or a combination of both.
We contact parents of newborns to coordinate check-ups with nurses, sleep and lactation support and social connection through new parents’ groups. Our services continue until children are school-aged.
We spoke to three mums who have become parents in recent months to find out about their experiences of our maternal and child health services, and what it’s been like to have a baby during the pandemic.
1. What has your experience been like with the City of Melbourne’s maternal and child health services?
Megan Bodnar: It’s been amazing. The nurses are not only very helpful practically but also very encouraging and supportive, and that means the world as a first-time mum when you have no idea what you’re doing.
We have recently moved to Victoria and didn’t realise what an amazing service the public health system had to care for new mums and babies.
Lauren Solomon:The nurses are lovely, quirky people. It’s almost like having your mum around.
A lot of communication is done by phone, SMS and email. This is the way the world is moving anyway – relying on technology more and more – but the pandemic has accelerated that.
Our parents’ group includes mums from all over the City of Melbourne, including Parkville, East Melbourne, Carlton and the CBD.
Despite the pandemic, we are finding ways to connect and we have a nice time – it’s a really welcoming environment.
Sophie Weiss: We have had some great experiences with the maternal and child health service.
The first visit was allowed to be in our home, which was convenient with a newborn, and the rest have been at the maternal and child health centre. I love that we have the one nurse until Chloe is three and a half years old.
I also used the lactation consultant twice for help with breastfeeding in the early days, which was really helpful. They were also really encouraging and reassuring that I was doing a good job which was nice.
The City of Melbourne’s maternal and child health team conducted 11825 appointments last financial year.
2. How has COVID-19impacted your experiences of becoming a new parent, and the services you’ve received?
Megan: COVID-19 made pregnancy even more daunting as my husband was not allowed to come to hospital appointments with me. My family also live in Queensland, so they have not been able to come down to meet Lacey. It’s really upsetting, but when they do get to meet her I know it will be amazing.
Having telehealth check-ups has been really good. Even though it’s not the same as an in-person appointment, the nurse was very thorough and – where extra help was needed – I was referred immediately to an in-person appointment to get the help my baby needed.
The virtual parents group is great. It’s hard to get out of the house with a newborn so it’s kind of ideal to have it on Zoom. I have even gone for a walk with one of the group members who lives nearby.
Lauren: Like everyone having COVID babies, l thought we’d be out of lockdown by now, but we just have to roll with it and get a bit creative. For one of our appointments with the nurse, we did the interview on the phone and then she dropped some scales at my door so we could weigh Agatha.
Our parents’ group keeps in touch over WhatsApp and Zoom. In a way, meeting online is quite good because it can be hard to venture out with a newborn, and if your baby is screaming you can just pop yourself on mute.
The flipside is of course that you don’t get that incidental contact with other mums before or after a meeting where it can be easier to build relationships and tee up coffee dates.
Sophie: I’ve found it hard not being able to give Chloe awake time with friends and family. I would have loved to have people over or meet in a cafe to expose Chloe to different sounds, faces and being held by others.
I’ve tried to feed in a park a few times just so she can see the sky and different sights and sounds when she’s most alert.
The virtual group is convenient in that you can feed and finish off naps from home. I would have preferred to meet in-person, but I’ve been for some walks with some of the mums in the group and we have a very active WhatsApp group.
3. What would you say to another person expecting a baby in the coming months? Do you have any words of advice for coping amid this strange time in the world?
Megan: Make sure you have a good supportive community around you, friends or family. Your maternal and child health nurse can help you if you don’t have anyone.
The lockdowns allow you to really focus on your baby without the pressures of going out a lot or having a lot of visitors when you’re really just trying to figure things out for the first few weeks.
Lauren: As a mum you have to be adaptive and go with the flow in so many ways. This has never been more true than during the pandemic.
The maternal and child health services are so much more than a mothers’ group, and the services stay with you for a long time – they don’t just stop when you get home. So make the most of them.
There’s even a 24-hour maternal and child health hotline. It’s great to know these services are there if you need them.
Sophie: There are definitely pros and cons to having a baby during a pandemic. Enjoy not having to rush off anywhere and just having the time to get to know your baby and get into your own rhythm.
Keep talking to your baby lots as they won’t be hearing as many conversations as they would normally and, if you have the opportunity to pass them around, do it so they don’t become too scared being held by others.
I also like to get out for a walk at least once a day with a friend, if you have one in your five kilometre radius.
Babies definitely keep you entertained in lockdown, so enjoy all those long hours staring at them!
For more information, visit Maternal and child health.